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A Qualitative, Comparative Study Of Students' Problem Solving Abilities And Procedures

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.32.1 - 1.32.5

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Paper Authors

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Jean K. Sando

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Gloria Rogers

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

.— - .... Session 1230 —.. . --

A Qualitative, Comparative Study of Students’ Problem Solving Abilities and Procedures

Gloria M. Rogers, Jean K. Sando Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

I. Introduction Currently, two freshmen curricula exist at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. This creates a unique opportunity to compare the problem-solving, team training and technology utilization abilities of students who completed the Integrated First-Year Curriculum in Science, Engineering and Mathematics (IFYCSEM) pilot program to the abilities of students who completed the traditional freshman engineering curriculum. This study seeks to identi~ the differences that exist between the techniques of sophomores who were IFYCSEM students and sophomores who were in the traditional first-year curriculum when they are confi-onted with a complex problem in a group setting. This study will also address the link between observed behaviors during problem-solving sessions and students’ performance on standardized tests designed to assess problem solving predispositions and abilities.

II. Project Description Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) has had a pilot freshman program for the last six years. The Integrated First-Year Curriculum in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (IFYCSEM) is designed to enhance students’ abilities to solve complex problems using computers and active learning. The curriculum also strives to create experiences which parallel those in the workplace. This curriculum is voluntary and one- quarter of the RHIT freshman class typically volunteers for the program. In the IFYCSEM curriculum, all technical courses in the first year have been integrated into three, twelve-credit courses which are team taught by an interdisciplinary group of faculty. Courses include calculus, physics, chemistry, computer science, desi~ and graphics.

There is special interest in examining the processes used by students in solving complex engineering problems. The study will answer the questions: 1) What processes and tools are used by students when they are confronted with a complex problem in a team setting? 2) Are there differences between students who have been in IFYCSEM and those who have been in the traditional curriculum? 3) If there are observed differences, can they be linked to the different curriculum delivery systems?

III. Relevant Literature While literature on problem solving is abundant, the most relevant literature to this proposed study is Carrie Mullins and Cynthia J. Atman’s (1994) “Freshmen Engineer’s Strategies for Solving Open-ended Problems” [sic] published in the ASEE Annual Cotierence Proceedings 1995. The Mullins and Atman work “looks at the freshman engineer as a novice problem solver” (p. 220). The researchers characterized the differences between novice and expert problem solvers thus: Expert problem solving strategies include representing problems at a deep, semantic level devoting ---- +!iiii’1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings } ‘.,,,Hl~’,’ .

Sando, J. K., & Rogers, G. (1996, June), A Qualitative, Comparative Study Of Students' Problem Solving Abilities And Procedures Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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